7 Trends Making Businesses More Democratic

Read how the Information Age is empowering millions with the opportunity to participate and influence almost everything, including business.
Latest posts by Traci Fenton (see all)

When most entrepreneurs start out building their businesses, they rarely think about the design and its impact on competitiveness, ability to attract great talent and inspire innovation. Instead, the focus is on perfecting the product or service, hiring employees, and cash flow.

However, the traditional model of organization design, conceived in the Industrial Age as a command and control, top-down model is dead. The Industrial Age has given way to the Information Age, empowering millions with the opportunity to participate and influence almost everything.

Behold, the dawn of the Democratic Age.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs? The traditional model of business is now “old school” and the “new school” model – one based on collaboration, decentralization, transparency, accountability and trust – is the new normal. Welcome to the democratic organization.

For the past eleven years, I’ve tracked the trends and identified what I believe are seven making organizational democracy the business design of choice:

Trend One: The Internet

The Internet is making new modes of collaboration, such as open-sourcing and crowd-sourcing, the new way of working.  It’s the age of the super-empowered individual, where everybody can be a “somebody” and power and information are highly transparent and decentralized.  The effect of this trend: Expect employees to want to have a voice and influence in decisions that affect them at work.

Trend Two:
The Rise of Gen X & Y

Generations X and Y are the most entrepreneurial and connected generations in history. Our life-style of connectedness and belief in our abilities (as well as our disenfranchisement with how we saw Big Business treat our parents) means we want to work in businesses that value our unique contribution.  The effect of this trend: Expect Gen X and Y to demand a more egalitarian workplace.

Trend Three:  Post-Enron Era

The recent economy and real estate debacle only confirm that greedy, me-first businesses won’t last.  The effect of this trend: New laws and regulations requiring openness and accountability, even if you don’t want it.

Trend Four:  Political Transitions

Never before in human history have so many people lived in free and democratic societies.  The effect of this trend on your business:  Employees who get to vote at the polls may also expect to at work.

Trend Five: The Search for Meaning

In Megatrends 2010, futurist Patricia Aburdene identifies the number one megatrend as the search for meaning and spirituality. The effect of this trend:  Employees will expect to find meaning through what they do as well as how they do it.

Trend Six: Corporate Social Responsibility

The rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) means that if your business is just about making money and not about being a good corporate citizen you’ve missed the boat. The effect of this trend: Embrace CSR values to attract smart, globally-aware next generation leaders to your workplace.

Trend Seven: Lifestyle Democracy

Today I checked the headlines on GroundReport.com, a citizen journalism website, listened to Pandora and picked my favorite music, checked out a course using MITs “open courseware” project, and voted on my buddy’s t-shirt design on Treadless.com. It’s the rise of what I call “lifestyle democracy,” where everything from media to music, education to fashion is being democratized. The effect of this trend: With life becoming democratized employees will expect the same at work.

These seven trends are rapidly and radically reshaping the business landscape, bringing us into a whole new era and making democratically designed businesses not just a nice idea but an imperative. The main question for entrepreneurs now – what are the advantages to running your business democratically and who else is doing it?

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